Agriculture in a Market Economy and Sustainable Alternatives

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Agriculture in a Market Economy and Sustainable Alternatives

Imagine driving through any number of Midwestern states, passing acres upon acres of corn or soybeans, feeding lots in Kansas with thousands of cattle, or rows of poultry barns in Virginia that leave their memories in your nose for miles down the road. Today’s agricultural system in the United States is one that follows capitalism and demands competition, which usually means make as much as you can with as few resources as possible. These practices tend to be harmful to both environmental and human health, are not sustainable in the long term, and have forced many farmers out of the industry when they can’t compete with the big companies.

Many people, including
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And almost every state imports between 85 and 90 percent of its food from out of state. (p. 10)

Participating in this market nearly demanding high-yield production with the assistance of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and single-crop farms is proving to be seriously detrimental to the environment and to human health.

Conventional methods of farming that focus on surplus production often rely heavily on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. In an effort to increase production further, some farmers have overused these chemicals, posing risk to human and environmental health. Patrick Madden (1988) states, “Scientific studies are finding increasingly convincing evidence that exposure to pesticides causes cancer, birth defects, and other health problems in humans (p. 1168).” According to the EPA, 60 percent of U.S. rivers are impaired, and “agricultural runoff is the largest contributor to that pollution (Floegel, 200, p. 26).” Not only does this pollution negatively impact the health of streams and ponds, but also are found in human drinking water in dangerous concentrations (Madden, 1988, p. 1168).

One of the main concerns with market-scale methods of raising livestock are confined animal feeding operations, more simply referred to as factory farms. Owned by a few major producers, CAFOs provide the majority of the meat eaten by Americans. Interestingly, these farms

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